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Pete Escovedo's Latin & Jazz Club
400 S. First St., San Jose; 408.947.7500

By Jim Harrington

Grand opening July 23 weekend with performances by Sheila E. Two shows (8:30 and 10:30pm) on Friday and Saturday, one show (8:30pm) on Sunday.

LEGENDARY Latin-jazz percussionist Pete Escovedo knows how hard it is to run a first-rate nightclub in the Bay Area. His Mr. E's venue opened in Berkeley, on Shattuck near UC-Berkeley, in the late '90s and enjoyed a two-year run before it closed its doors. "We did real well there. Things were going pretty good," Escovedo said. "Then the police all of sudden came down on the owners of the building and they informed me that I should start looking for another place."

He found another home for the club in Alameda, fixed the 500-capacity spot up to his high standards and then was out of business just six months later. So he understands the risks that come with the 350-capacity Pete Escovedo's Latin & Jazz Club, which celebrates its grand opening this weekend at the SoFA site that once housed the spy nightclub, the Usual and F/X.

Pete's heard the rap about San Jose—it can be a dicey place to run a live music venue. But he's seen the big crowds turn out whenever his band performs at one of the free Music in the Park concerts and he's marveled over the throngs that visit downtown for the San Jose Jazz Festival. "I've noticed how the downtown area has progressed so much [over the years]," the former longtime Bay Area resident said. "I thought San Jose is a city that is building up, and it might be good to get in here on the ground floor." In other words, he believes that the City Below the Bay is ready for an upscale music venue. And he's certainly ready to give it one.

The club will certainly be different than the other ventures that occupied the old Pussycat theater. Escovedo and co-owner Mario Galeano have poured in roughly $200,000 to completely transform the space into a Miami-style musical wonderland. Beyond memorabilia displayed from Escovedo's career, the interior reflects a bright South Beach décor with yellow, orange and other shades as colorful as the Latin jazz performed. There's a sunken dance floor and a comfortable main bar area for watching the musicians. Out front, there is a VIP section reflecting a Rat Pack theme, with plush couches and plenty of Frank, Dean and Sammy knickknacks. They've also upgraded the sound system to standards appropriate for the type of grade-A acts Escovedo plans to bring into town.

The march of talent begins this weekend as Escovedo's daughter, Sheila E, plays three nights with her band—twice on Friday and Saturday and once on Sunday. The following weekend features Escovedo's own group, and organizers are hoping to get such big acts as Eddie Palmieri, Poncho Sanchez, the Rippingtons and Lavay Smith to play the club. Although the grand opening doesn't officially happen until Friday, Pete's place is already open for business. He's offering live salsa bands on Wednesdays and old-school R&B acts on Thursdays. "We treat our customers like part of our family. We want to know our customers on a first-name basis," he said. "And that's the kind of atmosphere we are going to create."

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From the July 21-27, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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